New Eden. Same Snake?

DECODING THE HUMAN genome involves placing in correct order 3.1 billion genetic base pairs and then figuring out what they do. Thanks to computers—and one of the largest scientific endeavors since the Apollo project—the once impossible task has recently jumped to near completion. Amid the hype of new abilities to cure the sick and heal the lame, there are age-old temptations. Is the Human Genome Project salvation or snake oil? Or perhaps a little of both?

Biotechnology raises distinctly religious questions. Though few denominations have official statements on the genome project, Christian bioethicists assure us that the guiding principles of love, justice, and mercy apply. The human body is not an object, so an individual's genes should not be patented. All people have the right to participate in evaluating the social and biological implications of the genetic revolution and in democratically guiding its applications. Clear distinctions must be made between "therapeutic genetic intervention" and genetic "enhancement."

Genetic ethics, which will become increasingly important in the days ahead, will focus around a number of questions: How can genetic discrimination be prevented in work, healthcare, insurance, and education—and privacy be preserved? Do genetic patents help or threaten the development of therapies that relieve human suffering? Will the concept of genetic determinism threaten the concept of free agency, particularly as it applies to the legal system? Does germ-line genetic manipulation, which passes alterations to the next generation, compromise basic human dignity?

Religion shouldn't be a force that merely blocks technology, as some would have it. Rather, in light of concerns and principles like these, it must shape and mold technology in the service of human dignity.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2000
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